Hugh McGahan is a former Kiwis player and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Hugh McGahan: Sonny Bill should be central to Kiwi plans

Sonny Bill's form and guile has surprised many pundits. Photo / Getty Images
Sonny Bill's form and guile has surprised many pundits. Photo / Getty Images

We are at the stage of the season where injuries, suspensions, form and form slumps come into calculation for the selection of the Kiwi team. Added to this is the switching of allegiances by players, posing a conundrum to the New Zealand selectors.

But one bright light shines and - despite having only just returned to the NRL after a five-year hiatus - Sonny Bill Williams has given the selectors two reasons why they must hand him another representative cap.

Firstly he has dumbfounded the critics, experts, commentators, media and fans by his meteoric return to levels of physicality not deemed possible within a 3-4 month time scale. I thought possibly by mid-season (round 13) he may have his timing back and his body conditioned to the ferocity of the sport.

His attempt to tackle Rabbitohs player Sam Burgess in the opening round of the season, when big Sam trampled over him, vindicated my view. Peter Sterling expressed a similar assessment along with Andrew Johns and Phil (Gus) Gould - men you would never disagree with.

We have been surprised to see his adjustment back into the game.

The frightening aspect is that there is more to come.

Currently he is playing to a structure which is assisting his development but his ad lib style will come into play shortly, as we've seen in a couple of games to date. The try he set up for Anthony Minichiello in last week's loss to Canberra was guile and timing while two tries came with deft passing to James Maloney against the Broncos and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck against the Eels.

His offloads are among the highest in the competition. The conundrum the selectors find themselves battling with is the task of finding a centre to partner Shaun Kenny Dowell, who is not in the best form. But given there is no Steve Matai (Samoa), Gerard Beale (injury), Dean Whare (form slump) or Krisnan Inu (suspension), the selectors may look at Simon Mannering as the makeshift centre ... again.

This can no longer happen to the newly-appointed captain and my prediction of a 'bolter' selection is not that Sonny Bill Williams will make the team - but that he must be in the centres. Someone needs to close down the probable Australian centre pairing of Greg Inglis and Justin Hodges and SBW is the player to do that, while also posing an attacking threat to the Australians, as seen in Friday night's rout of the Bulldogs.

It's not just his time in the midfield in rugby union, it's his natural instincts and physical presence which will assure success. His probable back three of Josh Hoffman, Sam Perrett and Jason Nightingale will now have the prospect of scoring tries not just from structured plays but from tackle breaks and blockbusting runs which create the offload. The New Zealand selectors cannot ignore his form ... he is ready.

- Herald on Sunday

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Hugh McGahan is a former Kiwis player and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Hugh Joseph McGahan MBE was a renowned rugby league player and coach who represented New Zealand in no less than 53 test matches, captaining 17 of them. Beginning his career in Auckland he later moved to Sydney where he played over 100 matches for the Roosters, finishing his career in 1991 as captain-coach of the eastern Sydney outfit. Accolades were never far away from the impressive Kiwi lock and in 1987 McGahan jointly won the prestigious Golden Boot Award, the first row forward at the time to win the award. Hugh McGahan’s international career was similarly impressive coming to the fore in 1982 after scoring a remarkable six tries for the Kiwis against Papua New Guinea in Auckland. Hugh Mcgahan ended his career with distinguished honours as he was awarded the Member of the Order of the British Empire for services to rugby and later inducted into the NZRL Legends of League. He continues to write sports columns for the New Zealand Herald.

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